Despite being rebuffed by the State Supreme Court, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he would continue to go after public money from the failed Village Academy charter school. ''We are continuing as aggressively as possible to pursue recovery against Village Academy and Robin Barnes,'' Mr. Blumenthal said. Earlier this month, the high court ruled that Mr. Blumenthal did not have jurisdiction to sue Robin Barnes, the charter school's former president. The school got $1.2 million in state aid. But Mr. Blumenthal said he would pursue a separate 2000 lawsuit against the school's trustees filed on behalf of the State Department of Education.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal today announced a lawsuit against Robin Barnes, the president and treasurer of Village Academy, for serious financial mismanagement of the New Haven-based charter school.
"Under the guise of educating these children, Ms. Barnes engaged in self-dealing and enriched herself -- and taught a sad lesson in fraud and mismanagement," Blumenthal said. "She exploited her position of trust by entering into property leases and employment agreements that compensated her excessively. Her misconduct was a disastrous disservice to the children, the charter school program and educational opportunity."
The lawsuit alleges that Barnes benefited financially by purchasing for $110,000 the building that houses the charter school -- then reaching a lease agreement with the school that would have paid her a rent of about $275,000 over five years. Although the lease agreement calls for Barnes to personally be financially responsible for any major repairs or capital improvements to the school, she instead used the proceeds of a loan from a quasi-public agency for renovations.
Barnes informed state education officials that a Board of Trustees would oversee operations of the school. However, Barnes told the trustees that they were to serve solely in an "advisory" capacity, while she and a Board of Directors controlled school operations. In reality, Barnes directed, dominated and controlled the Academy's operations.
Village Academy is a charitable organization that was granted a charter to operate a public school by the state Education Department in August 1997. It receives $6,500 for each child enrolled in the school. During the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years, Village Academy received about $490,000 during each academic year in funding from the state Education Department. It also received in August 1997 a loan in the amount of $140,000 from the Connecticut Health and Education Facilities Authority.
"Ms. Barnes had a direct fiduciary duty to the school, its students, their parents and to the state," Blumenthal said. "Our lawsuit seeks to recover money misspent and serious damages resulting from the breach of her duty. The law clearly demands no less."
Records indicate that Barnes was paid roughly $55,000 for services rendered to the Academy between May 22, 1997 and May 29, 1998. Under an employment agreement executed in August 25, 1998, she was to receive a salary of $38,000 for her position as administrative director between September 1, 1998 and May 31, 1999; a salary of $39,900 between September 1, 1999 and May 31, 2000; and a salary of $41,895 between September 1, 2000 and May 31, 2001.
A second employment agreement also dated August 25, 1998, stipulated that Barnes was to be hired as a consultant to serve as "superintendent of schools" for Village Academy from August 1, 1998 through August 31, 1998; June 1, 1999 through August 31, 1999; and June 1, 2000 through August 31, 2000. As a consultant, Barnes was to be paid about $30,000 for each of those time frames, payable in monthly installments of $10,000.
Despite the substantial amount in grants, loans and salary paid to Barnes and Village Academy over the past several years, the original owners of the building that houses the school, who hold a mortgage on the premises, recently commenced foreclosure proceedings.
NEW HAVEN -- — Young, confident and a tenured law school professor, Robin D. Barnes had an idea: open a school for poor children emphasizing small, intensive classes with a rigorous curriculum to give city parents an option often denied them…
What has emerged at Village Academy instead is more nightmare than visionary: a mutinous staff, a revolving-door board of trustees with questionable authority, financial mismanagement, a privately owned building being paid for and remodeled at taxpayer expense, uncertified teachers and a failure to provide enough class time, books and, at times, even a proper lunch for students…